Wednesday, July 29, 2009

my links

I've just done the annual troll around my links (the ones over there on the right). Not the ones featuring me, the ones further down. I'm quite precious about these links. There aren't very many, but each of them has meant a lot to me at one time or another, it's delighted me and also irritated, informed, amused, infuriated, beguiled, challenged, struck dumb or whatever, and I've spent plenty of time there. I'm surprised and happy to report that none of the links were broken; an increasing number, sadly, are now dormant, and I was very sorry to read that William Harris died this February - he will make you in love with classical poetry. I've added a few new ones. Ken Edwards' blog (poet, musician, publisher) began in March and every word of it is worth reading. Nordic-Voices-in-translation is also a new (but very prolific) blog by a group of translators of nordic literatures - (it ticks most of the boxes mentioned above, but especially to inform and infuriate). After a long time I've decided I really have to put Catherine Daly's blog on there, though it is quite delibrately not crafted, often messy and mundane, but then it will suddenly fling out something dazzling and completely strange. As I've been writing this I've remembered some others that ought to be here, and maybe I'll add them soon. Anyway, go and click on one of these links and your head will expand, I promise.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Brief hist

A double-header for the home counties:

Jane Austen's Emma

Harold P. Clunn's The Face of the Home Counties

Plus, on Intercapillary Space:

Samples from The Many Press

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

herons and rooks

"It has been statistically proven that there are more common birds than there are rare birds", lamented Bill Oddie during a dull week-end's birding. He also noted that some particularly rare and spectacular species seem to only ever show themselves to non-birdwatchers. To a certain extent I can now vouch for this.

e.g. I'm getting really bored with great white egrets. On Tuesday I was at Climping Beach in W Sussex and I looked up and there was a big white heron flying above me. But I've already seen another one this year; it was fishing in a pool near the mouth of the River Brue at Highbridge. I don't really know much about birds. I can't tell a missel thrush from a song thrush, (I can't even spell mistle), and for anything I know to the contrary warblers are a purely fictional kind of bird. So why am I dogged by birds that aren't even in the birdbook?

This must be a good confident time for herons. Was the time, not so long ago neither, when the grey heron was so timid that it flapped wearily out of a stream the moment you even had a passing memory of that stream, even though you lay at the time in foreign custody and had not been near the stream for twenty years,... anyhow, these same herons are now so insensible that they snooze hunched up while we trudge past them, though barely 6 feet away on the far side of a ditch.

On the way home we still had an end of stale loaf that had been intended for ducks, but we hadn't met any ducks. I thought I would try feeding it to some rooks who were pecking at a strip of turf beside the motorway services. Only one or two were in range. They were surprised and extremely suspicious, but couldn't resist snatching the bits I had managed to chuck furthest. There was a fairly clear message of "No-one's ever done this before, are you sure you wouldn't rather shoot us and hang us upside-down from a gibbet?" Rooks close to have a very disneyish appearance with a sort of Mersey cut and a cartoon conk. When I had finished casting stale bread and I walked away, about forty rooks descended in a joyous squabbling mass, in which I could still distinguish a faint note of incredulity.

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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

more literary ephemera

I've got a new mini-book. This one is Charlotte Bronte's Mina Laury, written as an unserious game with her younger sisters when she was 22, and it's great. What I like best about it is the unrepressed mixture of fantasyland, real places, local names, settings remembered from other people's novels, domestic dreams. It begins: "The Cross of Rivaulx! ... It is a green, delightful, and quiet place half way between Angria and the foot of the Sydenham Hills; under the frown of Hawkscliffe, on the edge of its royal forest. You see a fair house, whose sash windows are set in ivy grown thick and kept in trim order..."

I'm not bothering with the niceties on these literary ephemera - there isn't time. So you'll have to put up with the missing diaeresis on Charlotte's surname, no italics, no hyperlinks, etc.

Richard Makin's St Leonards (Google it yourself)is going to be a bigger book, though you don't really have to read it all, and I haven't, but yesterday I came up to speed with the latest chapter (XXXI). SL is both very unlike a novel and very studiously fictive. Apart from its title, it contains so far as I know not a single proper name, i.e. of a person, place or artefact. Like a sea. Remarkable how in this unnerving vacuuum one clings to such momentary definition as a "Martello tower" or an implied family relationship ("Get your kids and leave"). But of course I exaggerate: the latest installment also mentions St Francis, a certain Old Poker, and a city called H.

Been trying to think of something quick to write for IS (fortunately, Peter Larkin has shown up there, so the pressure relaxes). I always imagine it should be easy to just knock out three paragraphs about anything. I opened G.M Hopkins and read about Heraclitean fire. Yes, I like this poem, though it's a bit Victorian. But perhaps I should really know a bit more about how it all fits.... and I start to read around it, and suddenly I know it won't be a quick job. Well, what about something from an anthology? I try D. J. Enright's grotesque anthology Verse 1945-1980 - James K. Baxter, a weird selection of Ted Hughes, then to cheer myself up Children of Albion - Pickard, Turnbull, now this is more like it... But everything I think to say bristles with issues of theory or history that I don't know enough about. It's amazing how many things I don't know enough about, once I think I might publish something.

Anyway, I learnt that a youthful Hopkins once stayed off liquids for a week. I suppose he cheated by eating lots of apples and other watery foods. Hopkins supposed that we all drank far too much liquid and would be healthier if we cut down on it. It strikes me he generally wasn't very happy in his convictions.

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Monday, July 06, 2009

on a forest path

4. At the sea shore.

Can you hear the waves lapping? When the ice melted, the long valley of the Indal river became an inlet of the sea. You are standing now at the highest coastline (HK), i.e. the highest level attained by the waters of the Eastern Sea* at this location. During the Ice Age the land was pressed downwards by the tremendous weight of the inland ice-sheet. When the ice disappeared the land began to lift again. Here the HK is 250 meters above the current sea-level. Even today the land continues to rise at a rate of around 7mm per year.

Look back at the path above the signpost. Where the waves never reached, finer rock-particles still remain. The ground is moister and richer in nutrients. That makes it easier for plants to get established. In the woods we've been passing through, mosses dominate the ground-layer. Bilberry together with lingonberry** are the commonest low shrubs***. But at the highest coastline the ground becomes dryer. On the path leading down from the signpost the rock-particles are coarser and conditions are more arid. Bilberry becomes less frequent and there is more heather, lingon and crowberry. Reindeer-lichen replaces some of the mosses at ground-level.

Juniper flourishes in the open forest. As a result of timber-thinning many junipers are released from a meagre existence in dense woodland. Look at the ones along the footpath. Near the power-lines in particular there are some that are more tree-like than bush-like. That is not so very common in the north of Sweden.

5. Peat extraction

The farmers in the village came together to cut peat. Peat-cutting continued sporadically into the 20th century. Water is needed for peat-formation. Sphagnum peat is the most common sort but sedges can also form peat. Here in Långmyran both sphagnum moss and various kinds of sedge grow today.

[From a leaflet found at Bispfors in SE Jämtland.]

* Östersjön: Swedish name for the Gulf of Bothnia.
** Vaccinium vitis-idaea , in Britain restricted to the NW and named cowberry in British floras, but probably the Swedish name lingonberry is now more familiar, because of the national obsession with going to IKEA and scoffing meatballs while scribbling wish-lists of flatpack furniture.
*** The untranslateable Swedish word is "risen", meaning thin twiggy growth, e.g. from which you can cut a switch to flick away mosquitoes.

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Thursday, July 02, 2009

literary ephemera of yesterday

The sneaky volume for work consumption: - I've finished a Penguin 60s vol of 4 Gabriel Garcia Marquez short stories - odd mix, the best by a mile was "I only came to use the phone", fantastic short story. In one of my dreams of old age, I will only read short stories. Why read the Trial or 1984 when you can get it all here in this story, and a bit better?

Anyhow, that's over, so now in continuance of the virtual Sweden theme, I'm reading a pamphlet about a local (Jämtland) geologistigen. I learned that the ground is still rising 7mm a year, and all about when Indalsälven was a bay, during the thaw at the end of the last Ice Age, and how you can know where the shore was at its highest point.

Back home, three booklets from Oystercatcher Press had arrived: Carol Watts, Allen Fisher and Lisa Samuels. Hughes is just knocking these out on his home computer and inkjet, I'm guessing, yet they are very desirable objects. I sort of scanned them, the way you do when you buy something that you don't really intend to read yet. This is just about the first time that I've read anything by AF. There was a crackle of electricity, vaguely portentous, and then I put it aside. Watts I already knew faintly from poems on the Internet - it's so exciting to know that a British poet writes like this - and LS I'm just a massive fan of, as you already know.

Last night, first I read more of Lindman's classic Nordens Flora, the grass section. I'll probably translate some extracts, and of the geology leaflet too. Fascinating the transformation of nature in a different language. Of course the species are themselves transformed, they look, grow, and behave different, but that's another matter.

I must have read something on the Internet, too, but I already can't remember what. http://nordicvoices.blogspot.com is currently talking about Greenlandic literature. I went on the Bokus.se site and it looks like they would deliver to the UK, though I haven't tried this out yet. I also ran across a sort of site within Amazon that specializes in Swedish books/books about Sweden, primarily in English, -http://astore.amazon.co.uk/swedenbooks-21 - the selection of books seemed rudimentary and random, but perhaps this will evolve.

Winding down for bed, picked up Selected Poems of Robinson Jeffers (bought for 10p at fete), which I was half way through, and finished it. Jeffers, with his private income and irritating way of taking the highest of moral high ground and of informing the rest of us that whatever disgusting things we did we'd soon be dead anyway, was clearly a total git (he would have been amazing in Big Brother), but the performance is compulsive reading, sort of car-crash poetry. (See the evasive way in which, by treating his stark truth-telling as "performance", I refuse to notice it.) He has some great, knee-saggingly brutal lines about the world wars, and some unforgettable (also brutal) ideas like the one about the lights of LA compared to sardines rounded up in a seine-net.

Finally, subsiding into sleep, read some of Eva Ström in Robin Fulton's trans of Five Swedish Poets, a book that always bores me to death and so it proved once more, but I keep nibbling at it.

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